Adequate manure and rainfall are required. Enough warmth is also a
pre-requisite.If the vines are are two metres long when planting,
they should flower between 18-24 months. The minimum length of the
vine must be 39 inches.
Date to shortage of vines, most farmers in this region (NYERI)
planted the minimum length; these will take between two and a half to
three and a half years to mature.
Despite the labour, the results, some aromatic brown pods and amber
coloured liquid make good returns for the famer.Its products are used
in food flavouring, perfumes, as a medicinal herb, a healing aromatic
and as an aphrodisiac.
There are at least 150 species of vanilla indigenous to tropical
regions. However, despite the high number of vanilla species, there
are only two members of the family that have been of commercial use.
The two are Vaanilla planifolia also known as V-fragrans. The other
is Vanilla pompona schiede. A third edible species known as Vanilla
tahitensis is believed to have oriented by crossing planifolia with
pompona stock in a laboratory in Manila, Phillipines in the 1700s.
Farmers from nyeri regions are cultivating Vanilla planifolia.
Vanilla plants produce inflorescences on the small stem like growths
known as racenes where the flower forms. They grow upwards towards
the light. Usually, only one flower blooms at a time on each recene
each day. But occasionally two flowers may blossom on the same day.
The blooming period ranges from 6 weeks to 2 months.
The flowers bloom very early in the morning, begin to wilt by mid
morning and die by mid afternoon unless they are
pollinated.Pollination has to be manually done to ensure
fertilization. It has to be done early in the morning before the
flower begins to wilt.
Upon pollination, the ovary begins to swell. Within six weeks, the
fruit which resembles a green bean, grows to its full length.
However, it must remain on the vine for between 6-9 months depending
on the region it grows. In cases of upper areas of Iria-ini location
where the area is very cold, farmers might have to wait for the nine
The cell walls of vanilla fruits are among the strangest of all forms
life, they are more of a matrix than cell. Extensive studies by plant
scientists in over 200 years have failed to define how vanillin the
sought out chemical extract is produced in the plant. Vanillin
contains 25 per cent of flowers fragrance. As a matter of fact, no
one has ever defined how many organic compounds make up vanilla
flavour and fragrance profile, though it is estimated that there are
between 300-500 compounds that create it's complex essence.
Vanilla is cultivated by planting cuttings known as vines much like
sweet potatoes. The vine to be planted has to be six feet in length.
About one and a half feet of this has to be buried horizontally in
the soil at a depth of three inches.
The remaining part has to be supported by a stake. The stake can
range from live plants, metal grating or other perennial crops
including coffee or orange trees.
Mr Wachira cites a case where Mexican farmers, having their US market
flooded with Brazilian oranges, they turned to vanilla and trained it
on the orange trees. He further cites Hawaiian farmers who train
their vines on metal scaffolding in their green houses.
Vanilla has to be planted under shade as the beans never require
direct sunlight. A banana glove is recommended as it forms an ideal
canopy. Nitrogen fixing trees like calliandra, leucaena and others
can be incorporated to help in nitrogen fixation.
When harvest time approaches, the field needs to be visited daily and
the beans checked. The beans have to be harvested before they are
completely ripe. Up to this time they are completely ripe. Up to time
they have neither aroma nor taste. It takes between 6 and 9 months
for the beans to complete the curing and drying process by which time
they acquire and develop the unique characteristics that define it's
world re-known flavour and fragrance.
During the curing and drying period, the beans will be cooked in near
boiling water, wrapped in clothes and stored in boxes for days,
massaged, laid in the each evening. This time the beans will lose as
much as 80 per cent of their original weight. (1 Kg= 38-45 green
beans and 1 plant will produce 3-10 kg beans). By this time, it has a
powerful and enticing fragrance. The frangrance, enticing as it may,
is incidentally repellent to insects and pests.
Finally, when beans are deemed ready, they will rest on wooded
shelves to up to another three months for conditioning. After this,
they are ready for packaging and subsequent shipping to the market.
(story written through information from the Hands of hope, and Waikwa
Wachira of horizon@nation. co.ke)
KENNEDY .O. OWINO
ARTIST,ENTERTAINER, SOCIAL WORKER, SOCIAL CHANGE ACTIVIST.
NAFSI AFRIKA ACROBATS
BOX 21255 00505, NAIROBI, KENYA
TEL: +254 .2. 576173
CELL: +254 723 568 251,